On Wednesday, prosecutors released chilling videos of Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz vowing to become the next mass shooter and predicting that everyone would know his name. The videos allow a glimpse into the mindset of a school shooter, and should serve as a warning against valorizing such villains.
“Hello, my name is Nik, and I’m going to be the next school shooter of 2018,” Cruz announced in a cellphone video in February. “My goal is at least 20 people, with an AR-15 and a couple trace rounds. I think I can do a good job. Location is Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida. It’s gonna be a big event.”
Indeed, on February 14 Cruz allegedly carried out his plan, and he has been charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He recorded three such videos on his cellphone before the shooting.
“When you see me on the news, you’ll all know who I am,” the would-be shooter announced. “You’re all going to die.” He mimicked the sound of gunfire — “pew, pew, pew” — and declared that he “can’t wait.”
In another video, he announced his plan to take an Uber to the school. In a final video, he declared, “Today is the day.”
That third video also hit on perhaps a motivation for the killings. “From the wrath of my power, they will know who I am. I am nothing, I am no one. My life is nothing and meaningless. … I hate everyone and everything. With the power of my AR, you will know who I am,” Cruz declared.
The 19-year-old shooter then launched into a kind of manifesto: “I’ve had enough of being told what to do and when to do. I’ve had enough of people telling me that I’m an idiot and a dummy. In real life, you’re all the dummies. You’re all stupid and brainwashed by the political government programs. You will all see, you will all know what my name is.”
Cruz’s declaration that people are “stupid and brainwashed by the political government programs” was vapid and meaningless, but it emphasized a kind of conspiracy theory: the world against him. He would rise up against this world, its rules that did not make sense, and more than anything else the disdain people had for him.
The heart of the issue lay in recognition: “You’ll all know who I am”; “They will know who I am”; “With the power of my AR, you will know who I am”; “You will all know what my name is.”
This central declaration — this cry for significance — has been granted in abundance. The media has covered Cruz’s every word. The 19-year-old boy from Parkland has gotten the attention of The Washington Post and The New York Times.
Parkland suspect Nikolas Cruz detailed plans in videos: ‘I’m going to be the next school shooter’ https://t.co/2lgFOdu4Pj
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) May 31, 2018
"I am going to be the next school shooter of 2018," the Parkland gunman announced in a cellphone video recorded before the high school shooting in Florida https://t.co/1NWejTtBeg
— NYT National News (@NYTNational) May 30, 2018
Cruz may have fallen short of his goal when it comes to bodycount (thank God!) but on the notoriety score, he hit the jackpot.
“This is what he wants,” Aalayah Eastmond, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, warned on Twitter. “Don’t let him trend.”
This is what he wants. Don’t let him trend.
— Aalayah Eastmond✨🇹🇹 (@AalayahEastmond) May 30, 2018
Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jamie died in the massacre, posted on Facebook that he had read the transcript but refused to watch the video. “He will not achieve his goals,” Guttenberg declared. “He will simply rot and die in prison and even that is too good an outcome.”
“I think our society needs to make him like a black box with a white X,” Lori Alhadeff, who lost her daughter Alyssa in the shooting and who is now running for the local school board, told The New York Times. “We need to stop giving him a face, because this evil will just continue to happen if our society keeps glorifying school shooters.”
There it is: the nut and kernel of the issue. School shooters are crying out for significance, for recognition — a recognition American society is far too willing to provide.
Gun control will not prevent these attacks, but anonymity just might. Nikolas Cruz recorded videos of himself declaring that he wants always to be remembered. That was his goal, and Americans were all too happy to hand it to him.
The Broward State Attorney’s Office has announced it will seek the death penalty against Cruz, who faces 34 counts of premeditated murder and attempted murder for the shooting. Even if Cruz is put to death, he has achieved his notoriety.
Peter Langman, a psychologist and author of the book “School Shooters: Understanding High School, College and Adult Perpetrators,” told The New York Times that Cruz’s desire for notoriety echoed the cases of other mass shooters.
“What’s clear is this is very calculated, premeditated, with no obvious signs of emotion except excitement,” Langman said. “He shows no emotional distress. He doesn’t even come across full of rage or anguish. He’s just focused on how this is going to enhance his status, how he’s going to make his mark on the world.”
Jordan Peterson, another psychologist and author of “12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos,” has written a great deal about the nihilistic rage that drives mass shooters. He warned that many of them strive to erase Being itself. In another passage, Peterson tellingly wrote, “Violence, after all, is no mystery. It’s peace that’s the mystery. Violence is the default. It’s easy. It’s peace that is difficult: learned, inculcated, earned.”
Every human being is striving for success, for dominance, for a kind of recognition. Traditional belief systems like Judaism and Christianity civilized that struggle, redirecting it toward love and service, to outdo one another in good deeds.
In jettisoning the idea of ultimate meaning and an afterlife, modern society may have removed the vital stopper against violence and evil such as this. The problem isn’t just that Americans know the name Nikolas Cruz, and watch videos of his plans. The problem is that Nikolas Cruz believes his life is meaningless, and the way to gain meaning is through notorious murder.
A slight dose of the fear of Hell would do more to stop Nikolas Cruz than feeble attempts to restrict the availability of guns. Americans could, in the hopeless attempts of ancient Pharaohs (who destroyed the monuments of their predecessors), attempt to remove all record of Cruz from history. Even this, tragically, might satisfy his wicked desire for notoriety.
Cruz is John Milton’s Satan. “Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.” Better to be remembered as a villain than forgotten as yet another meaningless face. The problem goes so much deeper than guns.
Watch the videos below.